Post 60: 5 April 1993: Day 7 – Dentdale Youth Hostel to Hawes Youth Hostel- 12 miles
It was a damp morning as we left the hostel, having been joined by Alf; hence the change in weather for the worse.
We soon walked under the impressive Dent Head Viaduct, over which runs the famous Settle-Carlisle railway line. The line was constructed by the Midland Railway between 1869 and 1876. Towering viaducts and bridges and long, deep tunnels represent an heroic example of Victorian engineering. In 1963 the Beeching Report started the decline of this railway but in the 1970s Dales Rail was formed to keep the line open and thriving. One of the most ironic characteristics of rail travel at the end of the 20th century is that leaves on the lines can force trains not to run. Mountains, rivers, bogs, rock and valleys can all be successfully negotiated by trains but leaves, now that’s a different a matter.
After crossing Steeps Moss, a bog, Cumbria is left and North Yorkshire entered; time to put the umbrella away if you’re daft enough to have brought one. I once met a group of walkers who swore that an umbrella was useful equipment on a walk. In addition, Mike Harding’s wife took one with her when she went trekking in the Himalayas, mainly to keep the sun off her. Nicholas Crane also took one with him when walking over 6,000 miles from Cape Finisterre in Spain to Istanbul in Turkey. What happens when the wind gets up, which it invariably does when it is raining? In addition, surely the arms start to ache when carrying an umbrella?
Snow-capped Ingleborough soon came into view ahead to remind me of my intrepid ‘Three Peaks’ walks, described earlier in the book. After a descent to Gayle Beck, the Cam High Road is followed, a Roman road dead straight in the manner of Roman road construction. The section was once called the Devil’s Causeway, in the belief that no human hands could have engineered such a road so well, or so long. Pity they didn’t tell my local Highways Agency about their construction methods as the three miles of road from home to work seems to be under permanent repair or improvement works; the rest of the country doesn’t seem to fare much better. In the Middle Ages, men feared nightfall on the Cam High Road. They hastened onwards, glad to hear the sound of Bainbridge’s horns carried to them in the wind. Wolves roamed the tops and the hornblower sounded the alarm as a warning for all shepherds to bring down their sheep and cattle to safety. In the 20th century, the only alarms heard are car and house alarms, set off by joy-riders or burglars going about their business.
If, as we did, you have ever stopped for lunch on the Cam High Road at the height of 1800 feet, the chances are that you will be found next morning in a state of rigor mortis, attached by ice to your frozen sandwich. The winds seem to blow directly from Siberia and it is rumoured that your extremities can drop off. Fortunately we had a flask of soup with us and so were able to avoid the full effects of ‘drop off’ or hypothermia. Have you ever noticed how packeted soup tastes like dishwater at home, but on the hills it is quite acceptable. To attempt the Cam High Road in summer is not much better, as the winds seem to come directly from the Sahara, resulting in sun-burn that makes the skin peel off in thick layers, as though a satsuma. However, there are wonderful rewards; on a clear day, there are marvellous views of hill and dale and, looking back, the flat top of Ingleborough can be seen, 7½ miles away. In addition Pen-y-ghent, Whernside, Wildboar Fell, Buckden Pike and Great Shunner Fell add to the circle of high fells surrounding you.
As we descended to Hawes it started to rain, and, not realising that the grass had become like a skating rink, I fell forward with such panache that Torville and Dean would have been impressed. As I aquaplaned down the grassy slope, I entered the record books one of the few people that has done a section of The Pennine Way and The North of England Way horizontal. With a pack on, gravity has full effect, making it very difficult to stop. By the time Hawes was reached the rain was coming down in torrents; Alf was living up to his reputation. There is only one thing to do in that sort of weather, go to the pub or a waterfall. At Hardraw, 2 miles outside of Hawes, it is possible to do both. The only access to Hardraw Force is through the inn, paying a small entrance fee on your way. The inn is open every day from ‘dawn to dusk’ (according to the landlord ‘dawn’ is usually about 10.00am). We followed the path past the bandstand to the impressive falls, best seen after heavy rain. The 96-ft high shimmering column of water is reputably the highest above ground in England. It was painted by Turner and every spring it is a natural amphitheatre used for a brass band concert. However, on this wet day a hasty retreat to the inn was the order of the day, how convenient.
Hawes has a number of other attractions, not least the Wensleydale Creamery in Gayle Lane, ‘home’ of the famous Wensleydale cheese, the museum portraying the history of ‘Real Wensleydale Cheese.’ In addition to the museum there is a viewing gallery where you can watch cheese being made, a cheese shop with free tasting, and a licensed restaurant. Try some Wensleydale Wallace and Gromit cheese or Wensleydale cheese with apricots – absolutely delicious and guaranteed to give you energy for remainder of walk!
Hawes Youth Hostel has a reputation for providing ‘home’ cooked food and on this occasion it lived up to it; the fruit pie was delicious. However, the weather had become so foul with rain and gales that we opted out of a visit to various pubs in centre of town. Instead we had a quiet night reading.